Pytheas visited the Isle of Man in 300BC - claim

AN Ancient Greek explorer's extraordinary voyage took him to the Isle of Man 300 years before the birth of Christ, new research claims.

Scientist and geographer Pytheas (pronounced Puth-e-as) is now believed to have visited the Island in about 325BC to take sun measurements during a three-year voyage – the first recorded circumnavigation of the British Isles.

Pytheas was born in the Greek settlement of Massalia, now Marseille, about 360BC and was a contemporary of Alexander the Great (356-323BC).

Marseille at that time was a thriving trading port in the west Mediterranean with strong commercial contacts with Rome.

There was fierce competition and rivalry between the Greeks and the Carthaginians for control of trade in the west Mediterranean.

The purpose of Pytheas's voyage round the British Isles is not entirely certain but may partly have been an attempt to seek other markets.

During his voyage, Pytheas – who coined the name 'British Isles' as a geographical description of Britain and Ireland – took measurements of the sun's height above the horizon at the winter and summer solstice in order to assess his geographical position.

After returning to Marseille, he wrote up his findings in a report, On the Ocean – in Greek, Peri tou Okeanou.

No copy of that report survives and scholars have had to rely on the testimony of others.

It's that fragmentary testimony that has been recently reassessed, leading to a clearer understanding of the route Pytheas may have taken.

He is now believed to have travelled from Marseille up the River Garonne towards Bordeaux, then by local boat to Brittany, either round or across Brittany to Land's End, Cornwall, then, again using local shipping, through the channel between Britain and Ireland and the Hebrides to Orkney and Shetland, before making the six-day sail to Ultima Thule, believed to be Iceland.

He is thought to have returned via the eastern coast of Britain, possibly visiting the amber regions of western Jutland, northern Germany and the Netherlands, then via the Channel back to Brittany and on to Marseille.


Click the link below to see a map of his journey:


At various points along his route Pytheas would take sun measurements at the summer and winter solstice to establish his geographical position, in addition to reckoning the distances travelled each day by boat.

In Pytheas's day Greek mathematics was not so advanced, but by the second century BC Greek mathematicians and astronomers, notably Eratosthenes and Hipparchos used sun measurements to establish the earth was round.

Converting his calculations to latitude readings Pytheas made his sun measurements at 48 degrees North, then at 54 degrees, then at 58, 61 and 63 plus degrees.

These would equate with Brittany, the Isle of Man, Lewis, Shetland and 'Ultima Thule'.

Professor of Celtic studies at the University of Mannheim in Germany, George Broderick, said: 'Though archaeology is now able to tell us that the seas around northern Europe and the British Isles had been frequently sailed since Neolithic times, primarily for fishing, Pytheas's voyage would represent the first recorded circumnavigation of the British Isles, which almost certainly, from recent reassessment of the evidence, included a landing in the Isle of Man.'

Back to the top of the page