BBC World Histories Magazine

The first Greek mission to Britain and the Arctic

On the outer facade of the Palais de la Bourse in Marseille, France, a statue of a man stands high on a plinth. Flanked by columns and protected by a pedimental roof, his body is wrapped in layers of clothing as if to ward off the chill. His face is framed by neat hair and a trim beard. But it is his eyes that capture the attention: they stare out unflinchingly from the stone above a strong projecting nose, their intensity emphasised by furrowed eyebrows. Coupled with his set, pursed lips, the overall sense is of steely determination, unfaltering in the face of any adversity.

This man is Pytheas, one of Marseille’s ancient heroes. He lived in the fourth and early third century BC, around the same time as Alexander the Great was conquering swathes of Asia and Egypt. Pytheas’s home town, at that time called Massalia, was among the most westerly Greek colonies, and was famed for

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