The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek by Barry Cunliffe
The Man Who Discovered Britain

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Synopsis

Around 330 B.C., a remarkable man named Pytheas set out from the Greek colony of Massalia (now Marseille) to explore the fabled, terrifying lands of northern Europe—a mysterious, largely conjectural zone that, according to Greek science, was too cold to sustain human life and yet was somehow, they knew, the source of precious commodities such as tin, amber, and gold.

Whether Pytheas headed an expedition or traveled alone, he was the first literate man to visit the British Isles and the coasts of France and Denmark, and there is convincing evidence that he traveled on to Iceland and the edge of the ice-pack—an astonishing voyage at the time. Pytheas’s own account of the journey, titled On the Ocean and published in about 320 B.C., has not survived, though it echoes in the works of ancient historians like Herodotus and Strabo. Their allusions to his voyage represent the beginnings of European history and underscore how much of a pioneer Pytheas was, for Britain remained without further explorers until Julius Caesar and his legions landed there almost 300 years later.

Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe knows perhaps more than anyone about the world through which Pytheas traveled, and he has sifted the archaeological and written records to re-create this staggering journey. Beginning with an invaluable pocket history of early Mediterranean civilization, Cunliffe illuminates what Pytheas would have seen and experienced—the route he likely took to reach first Brittany and then England; the tin-mining and, even then, evidence of ancient cultures he would have witnessed onshore; the challenge of sailing in a skin boat; the magic of amber and the trade routes by which it reached the Mediterranean. In telling this story, Cunliffe has chronicled an essential chapter in the history of civilization.
 

About Barry Cunliffe

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Barry Cunliffe is professor of European archaeology at Oxford University. His books include The Ancient Celts and Facing the Ocean: The Atlantic and Its Peoples.
 
Published April 1, 2002 by Walker & Company. 192 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Sports & Outdoors, Travel, Professional & Technical, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek

Kirkus Reviews

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(Cunliffe, for instance, connects a motif in Breton stelae to Greek temple columns.) He also capably defends his assertion that Pytheas was “first and foremost a scientist drawn to the edges of the world in search of firm answers to the uncertainties and doubts raised by earlier writers such as t...

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Publishers Weekly

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Although Cunliffe often has to speculate in the absence of Pytheas's own words, he nevertheless amasses strong evidence that Pytheas did indeed make his voyage.

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London Review of Books

Peter Green reviews ‘The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek, the Man who Discovered Britain’ by Barry Cunliffe, ‘Ptolemy’s Geography’ edited by J.

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ForeWord Reviews

He notes, “We now know a great deal about the places Pytheas claims to have visited—far more any of his contemporaries could possibly have known.” To this he adds a commentary on contemporary and later astronomical and navigational knowledge, noting for example that Hipparchus gives credit to Pyt...

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