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This article is about a type of historic document. For the modern Periplus Series, see Tuttle Publishing.
Beginning of the Arrian Periplous Euxeinou Pontou of Johann Froben and Nicolaus Episcopius, Basel 1533

A periplus (/ˈpɛrɪplʌs/) is a manuscript document that lists the ports and coastal landmarks, in order and with approximate intervening distances, that the captain of a vessel could expect to find along a shore.[1] It served the same purpose as the later Roman itinerarium of road stops; however, the Greek navigators added various notes, which if they were professional geographers (as many were) became part of their own additions to Greek geography. In that sense the periplus was a type of log.

The form of the periplus is at least as old as the earliest Greek historian, the Ionian Hecataeus of Miletus. The works of Herodotus and Thucydides contain passages that appear to have been based on peripli.[2]


Periplus is the Latinization of the Greek word περίπλους (periplous, contracted from περίπλοος periploos), literally "a sailing-around." Both segments, peri- and -plous, were independently productive: the ancient Greek speaker understood the word in its literal sense; however, it developed a few specialized meanings, one of which became a standard term in the ancient navigation of Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans.

In the Persian Gulf[edit]

Persian sailors had from very old times their own sailing guide books which were called Rahnāmag in Middle Persian (later Rahnāmeh رهنامه in Persian).[3]

A Rahnameh listed the ports and coastal landmarks and distances along the shores.

These lost but much-cited sailing directions go back at least until the 12th century. In some, the Indian Ocean was described as "a hard sea to get out of" and warned of the "circumambient sea, whence all return was impossible.[4]

Surviving peripli[edit]

Several examples of peripli have survived:

  • Pytheas of Massilia, (fourth century BCE) On the Ocean (Περί του Ωκεανού), has not survived; only excerpts remain, quoted or paraphrased by later authors, notably in Avienus' Ora maritima.
  • The Periplus of Scymnus of Chios is dated to around 110 BCE.

Tactic of naval combat[edit]

A periplus was also an ancient naval manoeuvre in which attacking triremes would outflank or encircle the defenders to attack them in the rear.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kish, George (1978). A Source Book in Geography. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 21. ISBN 0-674-82270-6. 
  2. ^ Shahar, Yuval (2004). Josephus Geographicus: The Classical Context of Geography in Josephus. Mohr Siebeck. p. 40. ISBN 3-16-148256-5. 
  3. ^ Dehkhoda, Ali Akbar; Moʻin, Mohammad (1958). Loghat-namehʻi Dehkhoda. Tehran: Tehran University Press: Rahnāma. 
  4. ^ Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe (2001). Civilizations: Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-0248-1. 
  5. ^ The Periplus of Hanno a voyage of discovery down the west African coast. Translated by Schoff, H. 1912. 
  6. ^ Xinru Liu, The Silk Road in World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 34.
  7. ^ Xinru Liu, The Silk Road in World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 36.
  8. ^ Xinru Liu, The Silk Road in World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 37.

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of periplus at Wiktionary