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Did any ancient Greeks visit Britain?

One explorer certainly claimed he did, but not everyone believed him

Sketch of Pytheas of Massalia standing on the deck of a wooden ship. He was a Greek explorer who claimed to have visited the British Isles
Published: December 15, 2021 at 2:30 pm
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In around 330-320 BC, Pytheas of Massalia set out from the Mediterranean bound for far-off and fabled lands where no known Greek had been before: the northwestern reaches of Europe.

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He navigated the Atlantic coast, sailed to Scandinavia, and landed on the British Isles. There, he observed the tin mines of Belerion, or Cornwall, and made estimates of how far away it was from home.

Pytheas wrote an account of his voyage, On the Ocean, which became something of a sensation. It has since been lost, though, so what we know about Pytheas comes from other ancient Greek or Roman scholars, many of whom believed he made it all up – his claims of solidified or frozen seas was deemed too outlandish.

Yet it has been suggested that Pytheas actually made it to the Shetland Islands, Denmark and the Baltic – possibly even Iceland, too.

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This content first appeared in the June 2021 issue of BBC History Revealed

Authors

Jonny Wilkes
Jonny WilkesFreelance writer

Jonny Wilkes is a former staff writer for BBC History Revealed, and he continues to write for both the magazine and HistoryExtra. He has BA in History from the University of York.

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