Manuscript (1485), Description of Greece by Pausanias at the Laurentian Library
Bornc. 110 AD
Lydia, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey)
Diedc. 180 AD (aged about 70)
Occupation(s)Traveler and geographer

Pausanias (/pɔːˈsniəs/ paw-SAY-nee-əs; Greek: Παυσανίας; c. 110 – c. 180)[1] was a Greek traveler and geographer of the second century AD. He is famous for his Description of Greece (Ἑλλάδος Περιήγησις, Hēlládos Periḗgēsis),[2] a lengthy work that describes ancient Greece from his firsthand observations. Description of Greece provides crucial information for making links between classical literature and modern archaeology.


Not much is known about Pausanias apart from what historians can piece together from his own writing. However, it is probable that he was born c. 110 AD into a Greek family and was probably a native of Lydia in Asia Minor.[3] From c. 150 until his death in 180, Pausanias travelled through the mainland of Greece, writing about various monuments, sacred spaces, and significant geographical sites along the way. In writing Description of Greece, Pausanias sought to put together a lasting written account of "all things Greek", or panta ta hellenika.[4]

Living in the Roman Empire

Being born in Asia Minor, Pausanias was of Greek heritage.[5] He grew up and lived under the rule of the Roman Empire, but valued his Greek identity, history, and culture: he was keen to describe the glories of a Greek past that still was relevant in his lifetime, even if the country was beholden to Rome as a dominating imperial force. Pausanias's pilgrimage through the land of his ancestors was his own attempt to establish a place in the world for this new Roman Greece, connecting myths and stories of ancient culture to those of his own time.[6]

Writing style

Pausanias has a straightforward and simple way of writing. He is, overall, direct in his language, writing his stories and descriptions in an unelaborate style. However, some translators have noted that Pausanias's use of various prepositions and tenses are confusing and difficult to render in English. For example, Pausanias may use a past tense verb rather than the present tense in some instances. It is thought that he did this in order to make himself seem to be in the same temporal setting as his audience.[7]

Additionally, unlike in a traditional travel guide, in Description of Greece, Pausanias tends to digress to discuss a point of an ancient ritual or to tell a myth that goes along with the site he is visiting. This style of writing would not become popular again until the early nineteenth century.[6] In the topographical aspect of his work, Pausanias makes many digressions on the wonders of nature, the signs that herald the approach of an earthquake, the phenomena of the tides, the ice-bound seas of the north, and the noonday sun that at the summer solstice casts no shadow at Syene (Aswan). While he never doubts the existence of the deities and heroes, he sometimes criticizes the myths and legends relating to them. His descriptions of monuments of art are plain and unadorned, bearing a solid impression of reality.[8]

Pausanias is also frank in his confessions of ignorance. When he quotes a book at second hand rather than relating his own experiences, he is honest about his sourcing.[9]

Modern views of Pausanias

Until twentieth-century archaeologists concluded that Pausanias was a reliable guide to the sites which they were excavating, classicists largely dismissed Pausanias as of a purely literary bent: following their usually authoritative contemporary Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, they tended to regard him as little more than a purveyor of second-hand accounts, and they believed that Pausanias had not visited most of the places that he described. Modern archaeological research, however, has tended to vindicate Pausanias.[10]


  1. ^ Historical and Ethnological Society of Greece, Aristéa Papanicolaou Christensen, The Panathenaic Stadium – Its History Over the Centuries (2003), p. 162
  2. ^ Also known in Latin as Graecae descriptio; see Pereira, Maria Helena Rocha (ed.), Graecae descriptio, B. G. Teubner, 1829.
  3. ^ Howard, Michael C (2012). Transnationalism in ancient and medieval societies: the role of cross-border trade and travel. McFarland. p. 178. ISBN 978-0-7864-9033-2. OCLC 779849477. Pausanias was a 2nd century ethnic Greek geographer who wrote a description of Greece that is often described as being the world's first travel guide.
  4. ^ Sidebottom, H. (December 2002). "Pausanias: Past, Present, and Closure". The Classical Quarterly. 52 (2): 494–499. doi:10.1093/cq/52.2.494.
  5. ^ Pausanias 1918, pp. ix–x.
  6. ^ a b Elsner, John (1992). "Pausanias: a Greek pilgrim in the Roman world". Past and Present. 135 (1): 3–29. doi:10.1093/past/135.1.3. JSTOR 650969.
  7. ^ Pausanias 1918, pp. x–xi.
  8. ^ Pausanias 1918, p. ix.
  9. ^ Pausanias 1918, p. x.
  10. ^ Habicht, Christian (1985). "An Ancient Baedeker and His Critics: Pausanias' 'Guide to Greece'". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 129 (2): 220–224. JSTOR 986990.


Further reading