|The Earliest Known Map , 6,200 B.C. ÇATALHÖYÜK / TÜRKİYE|
The human activity of graphically translating one's perception of his world is now generally recognized as a universally acquired skill and one that pre-dates virtually all other forms of written communication. Set in this pre-literate context and subjected to the ravages of time, the identification of any artifact as "the oldest map", in any definitive sense, becomes an elusive task. Nevertheless, searching for the earliest forms of cartography is a continuing effort of considerable interest and fascination. These discoveries provide not only chronological benchmarks and information about geographical features and perceptions thereof, but they also verify the ubiquitous nature of mapping, help to elucidate cultural differences and influences, provide valuable data for tracing conceptual evolution in graphic presentations, and enable examination of relationships to more "contemporary primitive" mapping.
As such, there are a number of well-known early examples which appear in most standard accounts of the history of cartography. The most familiar artifacts presented as "the oldest extant cartographic efforts" are the Babylonian maps engraved on clay tablets. These maps vary in scale, ranging from small-scale world conceptions to regional, local and large-scale depictions, down to building and grounds plans. In detailed accounts of these cartographic artifacts there are conflicting estimates concerning their antiquity, content and significance. Dates quoted by "authorities" may vary by as much as 1,500 years and the interpretation of specific symbols, colors, geographic locations and names on these artifacts often differ in interpretation from scholar to scholar.
One such Babylonian clay tablet that has been generally accepted as "the earliest known map" is the artifact unearthed in 1930 at the excavated ruined city of Ga-Sur at Nuzi [Yorghan Tepe], near the towns of Harran and Kirkuk, 200 miles north of the site of Babylon [present-day Iraq]. Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand (7.6 x 6.8 cm), most authorities place the the date of this map-tablet from the dynasty of Sargon of Akkad (2,300-2,500 B.C.); although, again, there is the conflicting date offered by the distinguished Leo Bagrow of the Agade Period (3,800 B.C.). The surface of the tablet is inscribed with a map of a district bounded by two ranges of hills and bisected by a water-course. This particular tablet is drawn with cuneiform characters and stylized symbols impressed, or scratched, on the clay. Inscriptions identify some features and places. In the center the area of a plot of land is specified as 354 iku [about 12 hectares], and its owner is named Azala. None of the names of other places can be understood except the one in the bottom left comer. This is Mashkan-dur-ibla, a place mentioned in the texts from Nuzi as Durubla. By the name, the map is identified as of a region near present-day Yorghan Tepe (Ga-Sur at the time, the name Nuzia 1,000 years later), although the exact location is still unknown. Whether the map shows a stream running down a valley to join another, or running from that to divide in to three, and whether they are rivers or canals, cannot be determined. The shaded area at the left side, to or from which the channels run, was named, but the writing is illegible. Groups of overlapping semicircles mark ranges of hills, a convention used by artists then and in later times. The geographic content consists of the area of a river valley which may be that of the Euphrates flowing through a three-lobed delta and into a lake or sea in the northern part of Mesopotamia. Also shown on this tablet may be the tributary river the Wadi-Harran, the Zargos Mountains in the east, the Lebanon, or Anti-Lebanon in the west, and cities which are symbolized by circles. North, East and West are indicated by inscribed circles, implying that maps were aligned in the cardinal directions then as they are now. This tablet also illustrates the sexagesimal system of mathematical cartography developed by the Babylonians and represents the earliest known example of a topographic map.
|Ga-Sur at Nuzi [Yorghan Tepe], near the towns of Harran and Kirkuk, 200 miles north of the site of Babylon[present-day Iraq].|
However, while the Babylonian clay tablet map described here has been the generally accepted "earliest known map", another contender might be the cartographic artifact found in 1963 by James Mellaart in Ankara, Turkey during an excavation of Catal Hyük in Anatolia. While less distinctive and on a much larger scale, this unearthed map-form is a wall painting that is approximately nine feet long and has an in situ radiocarbon date of 6,200 + 97 B.C. Mellaart believes that the map depicts a town plan, matching Catal Hyük itself, showing the congested "beehive" design of the settlement and displaying a total of some 80 buildings. One illustration of this map shows the painting from the north and east walls of the shrine. In the foreground is a town arising in graded terraces closely packed with rectangular houses. Behind the town an erupting volcano is illustrated, its sides covered with incandescent volcanic bombs rolling down the slopes of the mountain. Others are thrown from the erupting cone above which hovers a cloud of smoke and ashes. The twin cones of the volcano suggest that an eruption of Hasan Dag, rising to a height of 10,672 feet, and standing at the eastern end of the Konya Plain and visible from Catal Hyük, is recorded here. These local volcanic mountains were important to the inhabitants of Catal Hyük as a source of obsidian used in the making of tools, weapons, jewelry, mirrors and other objects. Further, from graphic embellishments around the mountain, Mellaart has speculated that the depiction of the volcano in an active state is accurate since vulcanism in this area continued for some 4,000 years later.
Clearly, the Catal Hyük "map" is still not the beginning of cartographic history. Investigation into the earliest beginnings of cartography will continue with a fair probability of further successes. This optimism is warranted by the fact the the materials used during these periods to record such geographical spatial concepts were more durable elements such as stone, clay, metal, earthenware, etc., unlike later cartographic artifacts made of more fragile materials such as paper and wood.
|Mesopotamian City Plan for Nippur, 1,500 B.C.|
This Babylonian clay tablet, drawn around 1,500 B.C. and measuring 18 x 21 cm, is incised with a plan of Nippur, the religious center of the Sumerians in Babylonia during this period. The tablet marks the principal temple of Enlil in its enclosure on the right edge, along with store-houses, a park and another enclosure, the river Euphrates, a canal to one side of the city, and another canal running through the center.
A wall surrounds the city, pierced by seven gates which, like all the other features, have their names written beside them. As on some of the house plans, measurements are given for several of the structures, apparently in units of twelve cubits [about six meters]. Scrutiny of the map beside modern surveys of Nippur has led to the claim that it was drawn to scale. How much of the terrain around Nippur has been included cannot be known because of damage to the tablet, nor is there any statement of the plan's purpose, although repair of the city's defenses is suggested. As such, this tablet represents possibly the earliest known town plan drawn to scale. ( Hilprecht Collection, Friedrich-Schiller-Universitat, Jena)
Turin Papyrus , 1,300 B.C.
In so far as cartography is concerned, perhaps the greatest extant Egyptian achievement is represented by the Turin Papyrus, collected by Bernardino Drovetti before 1824 and now preserved in the Egizio Museum of Turin, Italy. The papyrus scroll artifact probably dates from 3,100 B.C. with the map apparently prepared around the reign of Ramses IV (1,150 B.C.), who initiated a systematic land survey of his entire empire. The enormous expenditures of the Pharaohs and the priesthood were met principally by taxes on the land, payable usually in the form of grain crops. For purposes of such taxation, the land was carefully measured and registered, and the boundaries marked. There is reason to believe that this type of data was put down on maps. Centuries later, the Greek scientist Eratosthenes made use of these early Egyptian measurements in his treatises.
The extant papyrus consists of two principal sections, earlier thought to belong to two different documents. The more important section is a fragment, measuring approximately forty centimeters high, generally called the "map of the gold mines". It depicts two broad roads, running parallel to each other through pinkish-red mountainous regions. They are drawn horizontally across the papyrus, the lower with indications of a rocky bed or sparse vegetation, characteristic of the larger dried-up watercourses or wadis that form the natural routes across the eastern desert from the Nile to the Red Sea. Legends written in hieratic, the cursive hierogliphic everyday hand of the time, explain where these routes to the left are leading. A broad, winding crossway wadi connects the two routes, from which an alternative route is indicated and labeled, also leading to the left. Running vertically from the upper route is yet another road with hieratic text that gives its destination. The significance of the area painted red is explained by another legend that reads, "the mountains where gold is washed: they are colored in red." The Egyptian term used here for red, dsr, is that most generally employed for all shades of red, the color used to depict red granite, sandstone, and the tawny hue of the desert. The term "mountains of gold" is repeated elsewhere in the area colored red, as well as apparently the phase "mountains of silver and gold." In places the red area is brought to a point and given a distinctive name such as "the peak" or "the peak on which Amun is." The intention was apparently to render the basic outlines of the mountains laid down flat on either side of the valley route rather than to delineate precisely and accurately the area of auriferous rocks.
There are other distinctive features outlined, colored, and labeled in hieratic. Near the junction of the cross valley with the upper route a circular, dark-colored image is marked, with a second partially overlapping design in a darker black line. The figure is probably intended to represent a well, though no text identifies it. A little below and to the right of the design is another, more oblong in shape, colored green with the zigzag lines by which the ancient Egyptians conventionally represented water. Within the design there are traces of a hieratic group, apparently to be read as "cistern", "water-place," or the like. In the same central section of the map a round-topped stela is also indicated in white, with a legend dating it to the reign of Sethos l of the Nineteenth Dynasty. The feature is presumably to be identified with one of the rock-cut stelae executed by that king, depicting Amun or another deity, preserved on the mountain face flanking the wadi. There are also two man-made features on the upper side of the upper route. One is clearly a large building containing several courts or rooms with connecting doors, described as the "shrine", "resting place" or "abode" of "Amun of the Pure Mountain." There are also three small rectangular forms labeled "the houses of the gold working settlement."
The second section of the papyrus comprises a number of fragments for which the final placement, based on careful study of the fibers of the papyrus, has yet to be made. Its principal feature is the continuation of the wide, winding route of the wadi interspersed with stones. This constitutes the lower route of the other section. In contrast with the gold-mine section, the area on each side of the road is colored black, and the legend indicates that in this area the stone known to the ancient Egyptians is bekhen is to be found. This black or dark green stone, generally called schist by Egyptian archaeologists, is more properly identified as graywacke. The surviving fragments give no indication of precise locations comparable to those found on the section depicting the gold mining region and its settlements.
The Turin Papyrus fragments were long considered the earliest surviving topographical map from Egypt to have come to light. The papyrus clearly has a character distinct from the cosmological drawings of the universe or of the routes to or depiction of the after-life found within the formal context of religious art. The draftsman has distributed distinctive features in accordance with the reality of a particular area, adding clarity by the use of legends and contrasting colors. The texts indicate that the area depicted must be along the natural route from Coptos (Qift) on the Nile through the eastern desert via Wadi al-Hammamat to the port of Quseir on the Red Sea. This route was used in ancient times in the course of expeditions to the Red Sea for trading voyages south to the land known to the Egyptians as Punt [Somaliland]. The central area, between Bir Al-Hammamat and Bir Umm Fawakhir, was visited as a source of ornamental stone and of gold, and it is rich in rock tables recording quarrying expeditions and in archaeological evidence of ancient gold mining. More precise location rests on the interpretation of the orientation of the map. This requires the resolution of questions concerning the placement of fragments in the second section and the identification of the places to which the roads to the left of the viewer are said to lead. In descriptions of property in the later period of the points of the compass are given in the order south, north, east, west, suggesting that Egyptians oriented themselves facing south, with north behind them, the west to their right and the east to their left. It would be natural, then, for them to designate the top of papyrus as South. Such a view seems to be supported by the legend designating the upper route of the gold map leading off to the left as "the road that leads to the ym," that is, to the [Red] sea," taking ym in its most common meaning. The route marked as leading off from the cross valley to the left is likewise described as "another road that leads to the ym." The placement of the second section to the right of the map of the gold region seems correct, since it would then constitute the beginning of a papyrus roll, which would normally suffer greater damage. The map would then show on the right (that is, the west) the darker "schist" areas of the main part of Wadi al-Hammamat, with the gold mines of the region of Bir Umm Fawakhir some twenty-five kilometers to the east. A more recent comparison of the features shown on the map with the ground matches the various features specifically mentioned in the gold map with the central area of Wadi al-Hammamat and with the upper part of the papyrus constituting the North. If this placement were correct and the fragments of the second portion were to be placed to the right, it would require the ym to which the road now leads westward, that is, back to the Nile, to be taken in some sense other than Red Sea. It would likewise place the area of bekhen stone to the east of the location of the main quarry inscriptions in Wadi al-Hammamat.
The difficulties in matching features depicted and labeled on the papyrus with those on the ground are compounded by the absence of any indications of scale. The map seems to be a freehand drawing. The only indication of its purpose seems to be given in the series of hieratic notations written on those areas left blank above and below the route and the black areas depicted on the fragments of the second section. In contrast with the hieratic texts on the gold map identifying geographical features, these texts refer to the transport of a statute. A text of five lines, of which the first four lack their beginnings, seems to reflect a situation in which a king sent an expedition to the Wadi al-Hammamat to bring a statue back to Thebes. It was, we are informed, deposited in a workshop beside the mortuary temple of Ramesses II (Ramesseum) on the west bank of the Nile of Thebes and subsequently taken, half-worked, to the Valley of the Kings in a regnal year 6. Such a docket must have been written at Thebes, the papyrus obviously having been at some time in the possession of one of the scribes attached to the work gang responsible for constructing and decorating the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Jottings on the back of the papyrus include a reference to the statute of Ramesses IV of the Twentieth Dynasty, suggesting that year 6 should refer to the reign of that king. The purpose of the map is still obscure. Annotations on the second portion of the papyrus suggest that the document was drawn up in connection with work on the extraction and transport of stone, ultimately destined perhaps for a royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Some of these notes seem to give measurements of blocks; one seems to provide measurements of actual distances separating points on the map. The papyrus may be the result of calculations of distances for logistical purposes. To judge from instructions contained in a model letter copied by a pupil as part of his scribal training (instructions that seem to refer to the same general area as the Turin Map ), calculations of distance are the kind of work a scribe might be expected to do. What is unusual is that a rough sketch map is included. Surveying rarely resulted in graphic maps, and in this respect ancient Egypt is very similar to medieval Europe until well into the 14th and 15th centuries.
In summary then, the orientation of this particular map places South at the top. The geographical content depicts three roads leading from unidentified Egyptian gob mines to the sea. A prominent feature of the plan is what seems to be a winding wadi, or ravine, about the same width as the roads, in the mountains of Egypt's eastern desert between Qift on the Nile, down from Thebes, and Quseir on the Red Sea. The map was drawn in connection with a statue of a pharaoh which had never been completed. It is believed that this map also displays the gold-bearing basin to the east of Coptos (shown in pink on the original map) in the mountainous region of Nubia [part of modem Sudan] located at Bir Umm Fawakhir in the Wadi Hammamat. The scroll notes the locations of the mine and quarry, the gold and silver content of surrounding mountains and the destination of the roadways. The mapmaker has tried to show how the two main east-west roads lie in valleys that are linked by a road that curves through a mountain pass. One of the roads runs from Pelusium to Heroopolis. On either side of the main roads the map outlines sawtooth mountain ranges in an early attempt at rendering topographical detail. The nature of the country, the houses, buildings and entrances to galleries are also illustrated. The map is thought by some scholars to commemorate the triumphal return of Seti I from Syria (1366-1333 B.C.).
Two geologists from the University of Toledo in Ohio examined the map and recognized topographical features from the map, a roadway still in use and the mountains on both sides, shown as cones. The colors pink, brown, black and white were used to illustrate mountains and other features; however, the geologists James Harrell and Max Brown believe that these colors were not used for aesthetics, but that they "correspond with the actual appearance of the rocks making up the mountains". One region's sedimentary rocks, which range from purplish to dark gray and dark green, are mapped in black. Pink granitic rocks correspond with the scroll's pink and brown-streaked mountain. According to these geologists, this is probably one of the oldest surviving geological maps and the earliest evidence of geological thought. According to the geologist Harrell, "In order for it to be a geological map, it must show distribution of different rock types. Secondarily, it should indicate the location of geological features like mountains and valleys. In both regards the scroll qualifies and reminds us of modern geological mapping." The English surveyor William Smith is credited with initiating modern geologic mapmaking in 1815. ( Egizio Museum, Turin, Italy)
Babylonian World Map , 600-500 B.C.
This later Babylonian clay tablet, dating from the Persian Period (early 5th century B.C.), shows an asysocentic view of a flat, round world with Babylonia in the center. Its identity as a map attempting to depict the entire world is proved by the adjacent text, which mentions seven outer regions beyond the encircling ocean. This is a slightly different concept from that of the early Greeks, for whom the encircling ocean was outside of all known lands.
At this time Babylon was still a flourishing city, regarded as the center - the "hub" - of the universe. Yet only with the rise to supremacy of the Babylonian kings, with Hammurabi, toward 2000 B.C., had its claim to this position become possible. Previously the position was occupied by one of the former capitals of the earlier kingdoms. Probably the Sumerians made the city of Nippur- honored by them as a central shrine, a Sumerian Rome - the center of the universe from about 2300 B.C., for at that time supremacy was regarded as conditional upon the possession of Nippur.
In addition to the entire kingdom of Babylonia, which is schematically portrayed, seven unnamed circles are depicted and an accompanying cuneiform text is found on both sides of the tablet. The text contains names of countries and cities but, on the reverse side, is chiefly concerned with a description of the Seven Islands or regions which are depicted in the form of equal triangles (only one of which is entirely intact on the tablet) rising beyond the circle of the Earthly Ocean. Some scholars believe that there may have been eight "islands" originally. The tablet further states that these islands are at equal distances of seven miles (from either each other or from the Babylonian world), around the outer periphery of the Earthly Ocean. Various legendary beasts are named which were reputed to live in regions beyond the ocean that encircled the Babylonian world. A few ancient heroes reached those places, and the badly damaged text appears to describe conditions in them. The map is really a diagram to show the relation of these places to the world of the Babylonians.
The Babylonians knew little about the nature of these seven islands. We hear chiefly only of their various degrees of brightness. From the text on the tablet and the inscriptions on the chart itself we learn that the first island lay in the southeast, the second in the southwest, and so on, in a clockwise sequence.
The descriptions of the first and second islands are not preserved. The third island is where "the winged bird ends not his flight," i.e., cannot reach. On the forth island "the light is brighter than that of sunset or stars": it lay in the northwest, and after sunset in summer was practically in semi-obscurity. The fifth island, due north, lay in complete darkness - a land "where one sees nothing," and "the sun is not visible." The Sumerians and Babylonians probably had some knowledge, possibly acquired from other people, of the northern high latitudes and of the polar nights. Highly remarkable is the sixth island, "where a horned bull dwells and attacks the newcomer". An exactly similar presentation, true to tradition, occurs in the same position in an astrolabe of the 17th century A.D. and has been used in the reconstruction of the tablet. The seventh island lay in the east and is thus described: "where the morning dawns," meaning that it faces the sunrise. Again, the islands are all "seven miles" distant from the earth, but the distance between them varies, being sometimes six, sometimes nine miles. The description of two of these islands, however, has not survived.
According to Babylonian ideas, the islands said to lie between the Earthly and the Heavenly Oceans connected the heavens and the earth. These islands form bridges to the Heavenly Ocean, wherein are the various animal constellations, 18 of which are mentioned by name.
Thus round the heavens flowed the Heavenly Ocean, corresponding to the Earthly Ocean on the earth. And in the Heavenly Ocean were animal constellations, the "vanished" gods. These probably recur in the expression "belt of heaven," the Sumerian for which may be literally translated, "divine animals". As the animal constellations also sank below the horizon, so the Heavenly Ocean extended beneath the earth, so that plenty of room existed below the Underworld for the passage of the sun, moon, and planets. After the overthrow of the old world order of Apsu and Tiamat or Chaos, the former gods, according to the Babylonian Epic of Creation, were deposed and banned as animals to the Heavenly Ocean, by command of the creator of the new world.
In the beginning everything was ocean - the Apsu - Chaos, whence arose a number of divinities, including Tiamat (the sea) and the gods Anu, Enlil and Enki (Ea), the later representatives of the tripartite world. Now Apsu desired to destroy his offspring, but was killed by Enki, who looked upon the Apsu as his home. Then Tiamat, who went forth to revenge Apsu, was vanquished in conflict with Sumer, Babylon and Assur, respectively. Now before the struggle, Tiamat had created, in place of Apsu, huge monsters in animal form. The late Sumerian ruler, Gudea of Lagash (2600 B.C.), records in his inscriptions seven such monsters; in Hammurabi's time (about 2000 B.C.) the number was eleven. The text of the Babylonian cosmos, however, enumerates eighteen animals, but the names of two of them are not known. Each of the last two texts named begin with the same three animals: Basmu, Mushus and (Laha) mu. It appears from these tests that in the course of time new kinds of animals were added.
All of these animal constellations, though not to be confused with our zodiac, knowledge which, in this form, has not been traced beyond about 420 B.C., may nevertheless be approximately equated with our zodiacal signs; among other things and changes, however the names have naturally altered in the course of time. The chief animals are also shown on some post-Babylonian tablets of an astronomical nature. Karl Maasz has therefore made use of these drawings in his reconstruction, in which pictures of the so called boundary stones have served as guides. According to the drawings of the clay tablet in question, the order of the animal constellations run from right to left - from north to west, then around to the east. The text contains the following full list of "animals" in the Heavenly Ocean : (1) the adder (Basmu); (2) the red serpent (Mushus)- a typical name for the dragon of Babybn which the god Marduk borrowed from the god Enlil of Nippur; this dragon appears as a decoration on the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. He is of special interest because the four animal elements which compose him are borrowed from the neighboring animal constellations: the front legs from the lion standing before him; the back legs from the raven or eagle standing behind him; the scorpion's sting on his tail from the scorpion next to him here. The dragon himself represents in principle a serpent - the hydra; (3) the Lahamu, a serpent with the front feet of a lion, also reminiscent in this respect here of its neighbor, the lion (the hydra); (4) the gazelle; (5) the bull (in the late Sumerian period, a wild bull); (6) the panther; (7) the ram; (8) unknown; (9) the lion (the constellation Leo); (10) the jackal (the constellation Cassiopeia); (11) the stag (the constellation Andromeda); (12) the fowl (? the falcon); (13) unknown; (14) the monkey; (15) the he-goat, also known as the goat-fish; (16) the ostrich (probably the crane); (17) the cat; (18) an insect, possibly the grasshopper. The numbers 1-18 correspond to the numbers on the illustration, except that numbers 8 and 13 are not preserved in the text of the clay tablet.
These divine animal constellations which dwell in the Heavenly Ocean are there named the departed gods (in another cuneiform document they are referred to as the gods of the night and the goddesses of the night) because they were derived from the earlier "vanished" gods of the Sumerians, which, as the result of a reform in prehistoric times, were deposed and replaced by human gods. The Epic of Creation is the acknowledgment of this reform.
All of this - the Seven Islands, the animal constellations and the Heavenly Ocean - encircle the primary focus of the tablet, the "world map". The earth proper, again, is displayed as a circular disc. Enclosed by the circle of the Earthly Ocean lies an oblong marked "Babylon" with two parallel lines running to it from mountains at the edge of the enclosure, and running on to a marsh which is identified by two parallel lines near the bottom of the circle. The marsh can be identified as the swamp of lower present-day Iraq, its identity secured by the name Bit Yakin at its left end, the so called "Sea Country" and known to be a tribal territory covering marshland. A trumpet-shaped arm of the ocean curves around the right end of the marsh so that its neck touches the lines from Babylon. Despite the absence of a name, it is clear that the parallel lines running to and from Babylon represent the river Euphrates. To the right of Babylon an oval marks Assyria, and above it is apparently Urartu [eastern Turkey and Armenia]. Several other cities are marked by small circles; one near the trumpet-shaped sea, named "Fort of the god", is probably Der [Badrah] at the foot of the Zagros Mountains. The name Khabban to the upper left appears to denote an area of Elam southeast of the Zagros, geographically out of place (it might also be another town of the same name otherwise unknown). At the top, in the north, are the mountains, whence the Euphrates descends, in a southeasterly direction. In the center lies Babylon - the "hub of the universe". Encircling the earth is the "Earthly Ocean", entitled the Bitter River, creating a gulf (the Persian Gulf of today), it flows across the earth as far as the Euphrates. To the southwest is shown the land of Habban. For the rest, the map gives various nameless places indicated only by blank ovals. It is oriented towards the northwest. From other Babylonian sources it can be learned that for the Babylonians, the Bitter River or Earthly Ocean was enclosed by a double range of mountains, those to the east and west - the "sunrise" and "sunset" range, respectively being specially mentioned.
Obviously this is not so much a topographical map as it is an attempt to illustrate ideas expressed in the accompanying text, greatest attention being paid to the remote regions. The Babylonians evidently viewed the earth as flat, in common with other ancient peoples. Their references to the "four comers" relate to the directions of the winds and should not be taken as implying that they thought it was square.
In summary, the Babylonian cosmos comprises a world map executed in cartographic manner, a contour sketch of the Seven Islands complete with descriptive text, and finally, a descriptive text (only) of the Heavenly Ocean and its animal constellations. (British Library, London)
World view according to Homer , prior to 900 B.C.
These slides show reconstructions of the world/earth view held by the early Greek poet Homer. The Homeric conception of the world represented as a flat, circular disc of land surrounded by a continuous ocean-stream remained a popular notion in the Greek world even after many philosophers and scientists had accepted the theory of the sphericity of the earth enunciated by the Pythagoreans and subjected to theoretical proof by Aristotle. In this interpretation the world is like a plateau on the top of a mountain; inside this, close to the surface of the earth, lies the House of Hades, the realm of Death, and beneath it Tartarus, the realm of Eternal Darkness. The plateau of the earth is surrounded by Oceanus, the world river, and from its periphery rises the fixed dome of the sky. The sun, the moon, and the stars rise from the waters at the edge of the dome, move in an arc above the earth, and then sink once again into the sea to complete their course beneath the Oceanus. The atmosphere above the mountain of the earth is thick with clouds and mist, but higher up is the clear Æther with its starry ceiling.
The earliest literary reference for cartography in Greece is difficult to interpret. Its context is the description of the shield of Achilles in the Iliad of Homer thought by modern scholars to have been written in the 8th century B.C. Since both Strabo (ca. 64/63 B.C.-A.D. 21 ) and the Stoics claimed Homer was the founder and father of a "geographical science", generally understood as involving both maps and treatises, it is tempting to start a history of Greek theoretical cartography with Homer's description of this mythical shield. If this interpretation is valid, then it must also be accepted that Homer was describing a cosmological map. Although from the Hellenistic Period onward the original meaning of the term geography was a description of the earth, ge, written or drawn (mapping and geographical descriptions were thus inseparable in the Greek world); it is equally clear that Greek mapmaking included not only the representation of the earth on a plane or globe, but also delineations of the whole universe. The shield in Homer's poem, made for Achilles by Hephæstus, god of fire and metallurgy, was evidently such a map of the universe as conceived by the early Greeks and articulated by the poet.
Despite the literary form of the poem, it gives us a clear picture of the various processes in the creation of this great work with its manifestly cartographic symbolism. We are told how Hephæstus forged a huge shield laminated with five layers of metal and with a three-layered metal rim. The five places that made up the shield consisted of a gold one in the middle, a tin one on each side of this, and finally two of bronze. On the front bronze plate we are told that he fashioned his designs in a concentric pattern; a possible arrangement is suggested in the reconstruction provided herein. The scenes of the earth and heavens in the center, two cities (one at peace and one at war), agricultural activity and pastoral life, and "the Ocean, that vast and might river" around the edge of the hard shield denote his intention of presenting a synthesis of the inhabited world as an island surrounded by water. Hephæstus depicted the universe in miniature on Achilles' shield, and Homer, in his poetry, only provides a commentary on this pictorial representation. As with the Thera fresco, which is roughly contemporaneous with the subject of Homer's poem, the juxtaposition on the shield of scenes and actions that in reality could not occur at the same time shows the artist's desire to portray a syncretism of human activity.
In light of the archaeological discoveries of cultures that certainly influenced Homer's poetry, the content of Achilles' shield seems less extraordinary. Homer was writing at a time not much earlier than the first manifestations of what is considered the beginning of Greek science. His poem may be interpreted as the poetic expression of macro-cosmic/micro-cosmic beliefs, held by a society seeking to reconcile a general view of the universe with man's activity within it. Hephæstus, the divine smith, is chosen to give a complete image of the cosmos - earth, sea, and sky together with scenes of human life. The main constellations - Orion, the Hyades, the Pleiades, and the Great Bear - are described, suggesting that a tradition had already developed of using these groups of stars to identify different parts of the sky. The shield includes a representation of the sun and moon shining simultaneously, again in an attempt to integrate a general knowledge of the sky into one depiction. Even in this poetic form we can glimpse the use of a map, almost as a heuristic device, to bring some order into concept and observation and to codify the early Greeks' reflections on the nature and constitution of their world.
At the same time, we should be clear that the map on Achilles' shield was not intended to communicate a literal view of geographical knowledge of the world as known to the early Greeks. The scenes from rural and urban life are arranged on the surface of the shield in no apparent geographical order. They simply present a generalized and metaphorical view of human activity and of the profound interdependence of human beings in spite of the variety and specialties of their pursuits. This human unity is emphasized by the ocean encircling the whole shield, rendering the world an island. Homer depicts no maritime activity in his social microcosm: the ocean seems to be no more than a geometric framework for the knowable inhabited world, a frame work W.A. Heidel considers to be the essential feature of all maps from ancient Greece.
So detailed is Homer's description that, though clearly an imaginary map, Achilles' shield represents a useful glimpse of the early history of efforts to map the world. Probably much of it is conventional, and much also is fanciful. Indeed, it was the subject of ridicule by later writers. Strabo summarized the view:
Some men, have believed in these stories themselves and also in the wide learning of the poet, have actually turned the poetry of Homer to their use as a basis of scientific investigations... Other men, however, have greeted all attempts of that sort with such ferocity that they not only have cast out the poet.... from the whole field of scientific knowledge of this kind, but also have supposed to be madmen all who have taken in hand such a task as that.
But the description no doubt reflects elements present in real maps of the time, many of which were widely used later on. Stars are named and grouped into constellations; the limits of the known world are fixed by means of the ocean, real or imaginary, that encircles the inhabited world; and there is an attempt to give pride of place to human activity in this world scene. (map only exists as a reconstruction)
Anaximenes of Miletus
This slide shows a reconstruction by Arthur Cavanagh of the world-view as conceived by the Ionian Anaximenes of Miletus. As the successor to Anaximander, and the third in the series of Ionic philosophers, Anaximenes is said (by Aristotle) to have held that the earth was of irregular quadrangular form,in consequence of its pressing it down like the lid of a vessel. This concept consists of a rectangular world supported by compressed air. Shown here is the Mediterranean Sea and a circumfluent Ocean Sea. He maintained also that the sun and stars did not descend beneath the earth, and rise again at its other extremity, which appears to have been the prevalent doctrine in his day, but that they were carried around the earth, at a great distance, and that the light of the sun was intercepted during the night by high mountains.
The age of Anaximenes is not determined with certainty, but he was certainly intermediate between Anaximander of Miletus and Anaxagoras, and may be regarded as having flourished in the last half of the 6th century B.C.
Hecatæus of Miletus
These slides show conceptual reconstructions of Hecatæus' map of the oikumene [inhabited world] based upon his contemporaries. This map was originally engraved on a copper plate and consisted of building upon the concepts of Anaximander of Miletus (ca 611-546 B.C.) whom later Greeks considered as the first map-maker. Miletus, as a Greek city in Asia Minor, was well placed to absorb aspects of Babylonian science, including possibly the gnomon, the upright member of a sundial, though Anaximander is said himself to have invented it. He is also said to have set up a sundial in or near Sparta. Anaximander's master, Thales, was said to have visited Egypt to consult priests, and to have predicted an eclipse of the sun.
Anaximander was the second philosopher of the Ionian school, which was particularly interested in cosmology. The shape and size of his map are difficult to envisage from the accounts. Whether Anaximander taught that the earth was spherical or cylindrical has also been a point of contention among classical and modern authors, the direct evidence on his cosmology is contradictory. According to Diogenes Laertius, the 3rd century A.D. compiler from whom we derive much of our bibliographical information about ancient Greek philosophers, Anaximander was the first to draw an outline [perimetron] of land and sea and also to have constructed a globe". Similarly, Agathemerus, author of a 3rd century A.D. geographical treatise and a source of many otherwise lost works, claims that Anaximander was the first to venture to draw the inhabited world on a map [pinaki]. The two most common Greek words for a "map", (ges) periodos and pinax, can have other meanings, respectively "circuit of the earth" and "painting". As a result, modern writers have tended to be somewhat cautious in their assessment of Greek cartography. Diogenes Laertius also tells us that Anaximander believed in a geocentric universe with a spherical earth, he is suspect, since the spherical concept was not devised early, and others attributed to Anaximander the different concept of a cylindrical earth. Nevertheless, he may indeed, as Diogenes Laertius claims, have been the first to construct a sphere, though more likely celestial than terrestrial. Anaximander of Miletus is said to have held that the earth was of cylindrical form, like a stone pillar; the inhabited part being apparently the circular upper surface. Some of his astronomical speculations were equally fanciful and unfounded.
The practical map-making which developed from Anaximander's map , may be illustrated from a well-known story in Herodotus. In 499-8 B.C. Aristagoras, tyrant of Miletus, made a tour of important cities on mainland Greece looking for allies against Darius I, King of Persia. He took with him on this tour what Herodotus calls "a bronze tablet [pinax] with an engraving of a map [periodos, literally 'going round' of the whole world with all its rivers and seas." Among his contacts was King Cleomenes of Sparta, and on it he showed him all the areas on the way from Ionia to Susa, capital of Persia. The last region of Asia Minor on the proposed march, Cilicia, is described as 'opposite Cyprus', implying that Cyprus too appeared; and the regions east of Asia Minor are given as Armenia, Matiena, and Cissia with the city of Susa. Like many other maps in antiquity, however, this presumably had no scale; for Cleomenes, two days later, asked 'How long would such a march take?' 'Three months', was the reply where upon despite attractive offers of money he refused. This map was probably developed from that of Anaximander. But we may presume that it also contained the course of the Royal Road, which Herodotus describes in some detail immediately after, giving the number of staging-posts and the distances. This road had been carefully measured for the Great King by road surveyors; and the general proportions of Aristagoras' map, particularly the section relating to Asia, may well have been guided by such survey work on it. A plausible theory is that the geographer and mythographer Hecatæus of Miletus was the indirect promoter of this map based on Anaximander and on his own travels in Asia and Egypt.
Herodotus' reference is important in showing that maps could be engraved on portable bronze tablets, that general maps of the inhabited world were frequently made in Ionia, and that they were more informative than the simple geometric plans such as the Babylonian clay tablet of the same era.
It is not certain that Anaximander wrote a commentary on his map or on the construction of his sphere. However, it is clear that Anaximander was the first recorded of that long line of Greek craftsmen-philosophers who tried to express concepts in graphic form. The construction of spheres and the drawing of maps were to become characteristic products of the mechanical mind of the Greeks and their regular occurrence reveals perhaps a more practical side to them than traditionally has been presented.
The first Greek geographical work, written in prose around 500 B.C., was Hecatæus' Periegesis ['Guide Round'] or Periodos Ges ['Journey Round the World' or 'General Survey of the inhabited world as known at that time']. A great part of it was taken up with an account of places and districts bordering on the sea, and it must have borne a considerable resemblance to what was afterwards called a Periplus, or Coasting Survey. It has only been preserved in some 300 fragments, and the majority of these are of the briefest description, having been preserved in the epitome of the work of Stephanus of Byzantium, which gives little more than the names of places with the countries to which they belonged. However, it does appears that, in part of his written work at least, Hecatæus was far from confining himself to a dry geographical description of the country, but discussed at considerable length upon its natural curiosities, and the manners and customs of the local inhabitants. He, however, certainly added a number of mere geographical details, such as are not found in Herodotus' Histories, as we find the names of not less than fifteen cities of Egypt cited from him by Stephanus. When we are told that he enormously improved Aristagoras' map, this probably means that he criticized it in his text rather than re-drew the map.
The Periegesis was divided into two books, 'Europe' and 'Asia' the latter also including Libya [Africa]. Hecatæus had travelled in Asia and Egypt, and is said to have made a map, well spoken of by Agathemenus, and probably based upon an "improved" reproduction of the Anaximander map. Modern reconstructions reasonably show this map, which is likely to have accompanied his book, as circular, with the ocean surrounding a landmass which ends eastwards at the Indus River and the Caspian "Gulf". Hecatæus believed that the upper surface of the earth pillar was a curving disc. The Mediterranean Sea was the center of the "world island" composed of lands bordering this sea, the whole being surrounded by a circumfluent ocean-stream. The circular shape of flat maps in the early period was laughed at by later Greeks. Hecatæus is the first writer we know of to think of the Caspian as flowing into the ocean, an idea which long persisted. On the Black Sea, an area colonized by Miletus, he was clearly informative, and his writing may have helped Herodotus on areas like Thrace. To the north of the Danube, according to Hecatæus, were the Rhipæan [gusty] Mountains, beyond which were the Hypernotians [men of the far south]. Ancient and modern opinion has differed on the location of the Rhipæan Mountains; Aeschylus and Pindar imagined that they were at the source of the Danube. In west Africa Hecatæus clearly knew some places on the coast of Morocco. His view of the Nile seems to have been that it came, somehow, from the southern ocean.
In Book Two, comprising the coast of Libya [Africa], from the confines of Egypt to the Pillars of Hercules [Straits of Gibraltar], one finds a mere Periplus, or coast-description. noticing many ports and small islands; while the only tribes of the interior he is known to have mentioned are the Mazyes and Zygantes - obviously the same with the Maxyes and Gyzantes of Herodotus, both of which lived within a short distance of the sea, near the Tritonian Lake. The most distant places that he enumerates towards the west are Metagonium, a name which we find in later times applied to a promontory and people not far from thePillars of Hercules; and Thinga, evidently the same place that was subsequently called Tinga, or Tingis [the modern Tangier], just without the Straits. It is probable also that his river Liza was the same as the Lixus of later geographers, on the Atlantic coast of Mauritania, but this is far from certain.
In regard to the general notions of geography entertained by Hecatæus we are, unfortunately, very much in the dark. It is certainly probable that he was one of those writers whom Herodotus had in view when he censures those who represented the earth as "exactly round, as if drawn with a pair of compasses, and the Ocean flowing all around it." This was clearly the popular contemporary Greek world view concept, derived originally from the Homeric poems; and, from all we know of the progress of the Greek mind, there can be no doubt that they would be very slow to emancipate themselves from the influence of an error once established upon such authority. Anaximander of Miletus, the countryman of Hecatæus, as mentioned above, has been credited in Western literature as the first to draw up a map of the world, and there can be little doubt that this formed the foundation for Hecatæus' map. But though the latter is said to have introduced material improvements on the work of his predecessor, there can be no doubt that both would be still very rude and imperfect attempts, which might well excite the ridicule of Herodotus. In this case, as in so many others, it is probable that the scientific tendency of the Greek mind came into play, and that they assumed the round form of the earth and the circumfluent ocean as first principles, without any actual knowledge of the facts. We are told also that they placed Greece in the centre of the world, and Delphi as the central point of Greece. This last notion appears to have obtained a fixed hold on the Greek mind, and is frequently alluded to by the poets of the 5th century B.C., as a received article of popular faith. Just in the same manner the geographers of the middle ages assumed that Jerusalem was the center of the world, and arranged other countries accordingly.
It was evidently the same symmetrical turn of mind that let Hecatæus to divide the world into two great continents or primary divisions of equal extent. But this question of the division of the continents is not free from difficulty. Herodotus, in the passage already referred to, ridicules those who made Asia of equal size with Europe, in terms which seem to exclude all consideration of a third continent; and Hecatæus, by including all Libya [Africa], as well as Egypt, under the head of Asia, appears to have sanctioned this arrangement. On the other hand, it is clear that the division into three continents was well established in the time of Herodotus, so that he himself tells us that he continues to use the divisions and the names "because they are sanctioned by custom," though he thinks them unreasonable, and without good foundation. And in another place he censures "the Ionians," who divided the world into the three portions of Europe, Asia, and Africa, but considered the last two as separated by the Nile; thus as he points out, leaving the delta unaccounted for. It is difficult to suppose that among these "Ionians" Herodotus did not mean to include Hecatæus - the most recent as well as the most eminent of Ionic writers on geography - or that, if Hecatæus had departed from the generally received doctrine on so important a subject this would not have been noticed by Herodotus. It seems therefore probable that, although Hecatæus undoubtedly divided his work into only two books or parts, the second of which included the description of Libya as well as that of Asia, he nevertheless recognized the established division of the three continents, regarding Asia and Africa together as equal in size to Europe.
At the present day we are so accustomed to our modern maps, and to the small size of Europe, as compared to the other two great continents, that we find it difficult to represent to ourselves the opposite view. But Herodotus undoubtedly regarded Europe as greatly exceeding in size both Asia and Africa together, and, therefore, treats it as a gross blunder on the part of Hecatæus to have considered it as only equal to Asia. One point that doubtless affected the comparison was that Hecatæus regarded the Cimmerian Bosporus and the Tanais [i.e., the Don River] as the limit between Europe and Asia - a view generally adopted in later times - while Herodotus extended the confines of Europe to the river Phasis. Both systems were current in their time, as we learn from the poet Æschylus, who in one passage adopts one view, in another follows the other.
A traveller who had visited Egypt could hardly fail to have formed or adopted some theory concerning the must controverted questions respecting the Nile and its annual inundations, a subject which had already exercised the ingenuity of several of the Ionic philosophers. But on this point Hecatæus appears to have acquiesced in the view which, if we may trust to Diodorus, was that of the Egyptian priests: that the Nile derived its waters from those of the circumfluent stream of ocean - a theory which Herodotus justly sets aside as unworthy of refutation.
A similar want of judgement was displayed by him in accepting, as he appears to have done without scruple, the fabulous tales that were current in his day concerning the Pygmies and the Sciapodes, both which nations he placed in Ethiopia, in accordance with the opinion prevalent among the travelers of the time. (map only exists as reconstruction)
These slides show modern reconstructions of the oikumene [inhabited world] of the renown Greek historian Herodotus (active 440-425 B.C.) . Through his writings of travels, Herodotus did much to enlarge contemporary knowledge of Asia.
Herodotus wrote his Histories in the mid-400's B.C.
His book was intended first and foremost as the story of the Greeks' long struggle with the Persian Empire, but Herodotus also included everything he has been able to find out about the geography, history, and peoples of the world. His work, with the map that can be reconstructed from his descriptions, provides our most detailed picture of the world known to the Greeks of the 5 th century B.C.
Herodotus was not only a great writer, but he was also an adventurous traveler. His researches for his book took him from his home in Halicarnassus in Asia Minor- the peninsula of western Asia between the Black Sea (Herodotus' Pontus Euxinus ) and the Mediterranean - through must of the known world. His geographical descriptions are based on the observations that he made on this journey, combined with what he learned from the people he met. Herodotus saw his surroundings far more realistically than did most of his contemporaries; sometimes he even goes to the extent of doubting the truth of a story he reports second-hand. We shall have to believe that he was familiar with theories about the sphericity of the earth, but even though he was often critical of other geographers, he nevertheless seems to have accepted the old belief of the world as a disc. From this information, he built up a picture of the world that is very near the truth. The area he knew was small, but his knowledge of it was amazingly complete.
Scattered throughout his text is so much information about countries and rivers and seas and their relative size and position that many have tried to draw maps of Herodotus' world from it. Herodotus writes:
And I laugh when I see that, though many before this have drawn maps of the Earth, yet no one has set the matter forth in an intelligent way; seeing that they draw Oceanus flowing around the Earth, which is circular exactly as if drawn with compasses, and they make Asia equal in size to Europe . . . I wonder then at those who have parted off and divided the world into Libya, Asia and Europe, since the difference between these is not small; for in length Europe extends along by both, while in breadth it is clear to me that it is beyond comparison larger; for Libya furnishes proofs about itself that it is surrounded by sea, except so much of it as borders upon Asia [Then follows the narrative of the Phoenician voyage around Libya, and further on the story of the voyage made by Scylax] . . . Thus Asia also, excepting the parts of it which are towards the rising sun, has been found to be similar to Libya [i.e. surrounded by sea]. As to Europe, however, it is clearly not known by any, either as regards the parts which are towards the rising sun or those towards the north, whether it be surrounded by sea .
Herodotus scoffed at the popular belief that Europe, Asia, and Africa (which he called Libya ) were all the same size, and made up a circular world. He cannot guess why three different names, Europa, Libya, Asia, have been given to the earth, which is one unit; why they are, according to him, named after women [Europa ] was famous in mythology; Asia is said to have been one of the Oceanides; Libya, however, does not seem to occur as the name of a woman; Martin Waldseemüller, or his associate Martin Ringmann, was evidently recalling this passage of Herodotus when he suggested America as the name of the New World in his seminal map of 1507; nor who fixed the boundary of Asia and Libya at the Nile and the boundary of Asia and Europe at the Colchian Phasis [or at the Don and the Straits of Kertsch]. His view of the earth was closer to our own, although, because his knowledge was limited, he described Europe as being as long as both Asia and Africa put together. Of the areas to the north and east he knew little, mentioning neither Britain nor Scandinavia, and confessing ignorance of eastern Asia. He does not know whether Europe is surrounded by water to the west and north, nor the location of the Cassiterides Islands, from which tin is obtained. In the geography of India, Herodotus made a surprising mistake. Although he knew that a Greek mariner called Scylax (dates unknown) had sailed down the Indus River and around Arabia into the Red Sea, Herodotus maintained that the Indus River flowed southeast.
The Persians inhabit Asia extending to the Southern Sea, which is called the Erythræan [i.e. the 'red' sea. - the Indian Ocean was called the "red' sea during the entire classical era; it was only during the Middle Ages that the denomination was referred to the Red Sea proper] . . . This then [Asia Minor] is one of the peninsulas, and the other beginning from the land of the Persians stretches along to the Erythræan Sea, including Persia and next after it Assyria, and Arabic after Assyria; and this ends, or rather is commonly supposed to end, at the Arabian Gulf [the Red Sea], into which Darius conducted a canal from the Nile . . . With respect to the voyage along it [i.e. Herodotus' Arabian Gulf], one who set out from the inner most point to sail out through it into the open sea, would spend forty days upon the voyage, using oars; and with respect to breadth, where the gulf is broadest it is half a day's sail across . . .
And Asia is inhabited as far as the Indian land; but from this onwards towards the east it becomes desert, nor can anyone say what manner of land it is . . . Then again Arabia is the furthest of inhabited lands in the direction of the midday [i.e.south]... As one passes beyond the place of the midday, the Ethiopian land is that which extends furthest of all inhabited lands towards the sunset [i.e. south-west] . . .
For the Nile flows from Libya and cuts Libya through the midst, and as I conjecture, judging of what is not known by that which is evident to the view, it starts at a distance from its mouth equal to that of the Ister [here Herodotus means that the source of the Nile is as far west as that of the Ister-Danube]; for the River Ister begins from the Celti and the city of Pyrene [the Pyrenees?] and so runs that it divides Europe in the midst (now the Celti are outside the Pillars of Hercules and border upon the Cynetes, who dwell furthest towards the sunset of all those who have their dwelling in Europe and the Ister ends, having its course through the whole of Europe, by flowing into the Euxine Sea at the place where the Milesians have their settlement at Istria. Now the Ister, since it flows through land which is inhabited, is known by the reports of many; but of the sources of the Nile no one can give an account, for the part of Libya through which it flows is uninhabited and desert . . .
Herodotus tells of five youths from the country of the Nasamones on the Gulf of Sidra, who pushed down through the desert to the south-west until they came to a great river which flowed east. They had seen crocodiles there, and so Herodotus was convinced that they had reached the Nile, which he believed to rise in West Africa. It has been suggested that the Nasamones came upon the Niger near Timbuktu, but n is more probable that they got no further than to the Fezzan, where dried-up river beds bear witness of large prehistoric rivers, and where carvings of crocodiles have been found on rock faces. The dromedary camel was not yet in use in Africa in Herodotus' days, and it is difficult to believe that the youths could have crossed the sands of the desert as far as the Niger on horseback.
For all that sea which the Hellenes navigate, and the sea beyond the Pillars, which is called Atlantis, and the Erythræan Sea are in fact all one, but the Caspian is separate and lies apart by itself. In length it is a voyage of fifteen days if one uses oars, and in breadth, where it is broadest, a voyage of eight days. On the side towards the west of this sea the Caucasus runs along by it, which is of all mountain ranges both the greatest in extent and the loftiest . . . while towards the east and the rising sun a limitless plain succeeds . . .
And taking his seat at the temple he [Darius] gazed upon the Pontus [the Euxine], which is a sight well worth seeing. Of all seas it is indeed the most marvelous in its nature. The length of it is seven thousand one hundred furlongs and the breadth, where it is broadest three thousand three hundred . . . This Pontus also has a lake which has its outlet into it which lake is not much less in size than the Pontus itself, and it is called Mæotis [the Sea of Azov] and 'Mother of the Pontus'.
In two respects, Herodotus' knowledge was considerably in advance of his time. He realized that the Caspian was an inland sea and not, as many geographers thought, a gulf connected to the ocean that was supposed to encircle the earth. Also, he stated that Africa was surrounded by sea, and cited the Phoenician voyage commissioned by Necho in 600 B.C. as definite proof of this. Some 500 years after Herodotus wrote, the geographer Claudius Ptolemy, whose knowledge was more detailed that Herodotus', mistakenly pined southern Africa to Asia, making the Indian Ocean into an inland sea. Herodotus' knowledge of the course of the Nile was, however, as hazy as of that of the Indus. According to him, it rose south of the Atlas Mountains, and flowed across Africa before turning north to flow through Egypt toward the Mediterranean Sea. (map only exists as reconstruction)
Eratosthenes of Cyrene
This slide shows a 19th century reconstruction of the world view of Eratosthenes of Cyrene (275-194 B.C.). More symmetrical than accurate, its partitions were the forerunners of parallels and meridians after Dicæarchus . Geographic information that was gathered by Alexander the Great and his successors was the primary source used by Eratosthenes, a scholar with vision large enough to put this information into a logical framework.
There can be no doubt that before the time of Eratosthenes the ideas of the learned world on the subject of geography had assumed a more regular and systematic form. And it is certain also that these had been embodied in the form of maps, which, however imperfect, were unquestionably very superior to anything that had preceded them. The first use of world maps by the Greeks had been introduced at a very early period by Anaximander (ca. 610-546 B.C. ), and maps of the world were not uncommon in the time of Herodotus (ca. 489-425 B.C. ), though based on the crude ideas of the period, and on hasty assumptions that excited the ridicule of the famous historian. Nor can it be doubted that the discoveries resulting from the conquests of Alexander the Great (ca. 356-323 B.C.) and the extension of geographical knowledge under his successors, would have gradually found their way into such maps; but we know from frequent experience, even in modern times, how slowly established errors are discarded, and how long they maintain their ground, even in the face of more accurate information. The same thing was still more the case in ancient times, and it is highly probable that if you could now recover the map of the world as it was generally received in the time of the first Ptolemies, we should find it still retaining many of the erroneous views of Herodotus and Hecatæus .
Eratosthenes, head of the Library at Alexandria from 240 B.C. until his death, was known as beta to his contemporaries because they considered him second in all his varied academic pursuits. More critical of these accomplishments was Strabo (63 B.C.?- A.D.24, ) to whom we are indebted for much of our knowledge of geography in antiquity, including the work of Eratosthenes whose relevant works, neither of which survived, were On the Measurement of the Earth and Geographica, Cleomedes summarized the former, Strabo criticized the latter. Future scholars would have a higher opinion of Eratosthenes, regarding him, "as the parent of scientific geography" and at least "worthy of alpha" in that subject, particularly for his remarkable measurement of the circumference of the earth.
It appears indeed from repeated statements of Strabo that Eratosthenes made it the object of his special attention to "reform the map of the world," as it had existed down to his time, and to reconstruct it upon more scientific principles. It is this enlarged and philosophical view of the subject which constitutes his special merit, and entitles him to be justly called "the father of systematic geography". The materials at his command were still very imperfect,and the means of scientific observation were wanting to a degree which we can, at the present-day, scarcely figure to ourselves; but the methods which he pursued were of a strictly scientific character, and his judgment was so sound that he proved in many instances to be better informed and more judicious in his inferences than geographers of two centuries later.
With regard to the fundamental idea of all geography - the position and figure of the earth - Eratosthenes adopted the views that were current among the astronomers of his day, which had been received almost without exception from the times of Aristotle (ca. 384-322 B.C.) and Euclid (ca. 300 B.C.). He regarded the earth as a sphere, placed in the center of the universe, around which the celestial sphere revolved every twenty-four hours: besides which, the sun and moon had independent motions of their own. The obliquity of the sun's course to that of the celestial sphere, was of course well known; and hence the great circles of the equinoctial, and the ecliptic, or zodiacal circle, as well as the lesser circles, called the tropics, parallel with the equinoctial, were already familiar to the astronomers of Alexandria. Moreover it appears that these conceptions, originally applied to the celestial sphere, had been already transferred in theory to the terrestrial globe. Thus the idea of the globe of the earth, as it would present itself to the mind of Eratosthenes, or any of his more instructed contemporaries, did not differ materially from that of the modern geographer. For all geographical purposes, at least as the term was understood in his day, the difference between the geocentric and the heliocentric theories of the universe would be unimportant.
But Eratosthenes had the merit of making one valuable addition to the previously existing ideas upon this subject, by a more careful and successful measurement than had ever been previously attempted, of the magnitude of the earth, or circumference of the terrestrial globe. Once the idea of a spherical earth was accepted, and that it was a perfect sphere, the measurement of this body was a logical step, even to Greek scholars who were more given to philosophical speculation than to quantification and experimentation. He was not indeed the first who had attempted the solution of this problem, which would naturally engage the attention of astronomers and geometers, as soon as it was agreed that the earth was of a spherical form. Aristotle refers to the calculation of "mathematicians" who had investigated the subject (without naming them) that the earth was 400,000 stades in circumference. This distinction may belong to Eudoxus of Cnidus (ca. 370 B.C.) who also estimated its measurement at 400,000 stades. A calculation of 300,000 stades is credited to Dicæarchus (died 296 B.C.), a student of Aristotle. Aristarchus of Samos (died 230 B.C.), has been called the "Copernicus of Antiquity" because of his early espousal of a heliocentric, rather than geocentric, view of the universe (perhaps, more properly, Copernicus should be called the "Renaissance Aristarchus"). At a later period Archimedes speaks of 300,000 stades as the measurement usually received, a statement apparently founded on the calculations of Aristarchus of Samos (died 230 B.C.), one of the earlier astronomers of the Alexandrian school. But we have no information as to the data on which these first crude attempts were based, or the mode by which he authors arrived at their results.
The method pursued by Eratosthenes was theoretically sound, and was in fact identical in principle with that which has been adopted by astronomers in modern day. The method pursued by Eratosthenes is fully stated and explained by the astronomer Cleomedes, in his work on the Circular Motion of the Heavenly Bodies. Both the method and the accuracy of Eratosthenes' well-known measurement of the earth have evoked the admiration of later workers, and his calculation is regarded as one of the greatest achievements of Greek science. While still keeping to the geocentric views of the universe, Eratosthenes started from the assumption that the sun was so distant that for practical purposes one could consider its rays parallel anywhere on earth. He observed that the rays of the sun, at midday, at the time of the summer solstice, fell directly over Syene [modern-day Aswan] and that the vertical rod of the sun dial (gnomon or style) would not cast a shadow (predicated on the assumption that Syene was situated exactly under the Tropic of Cancer). At the same time of day and year, the shadow cast by a gnomon at Alexandria, to the north of Syene, was measured by Eratosthenes as 1/50 of a proper 360° circle. He assumed that: Syene (S) and Alexandria (A) lie under the same meridian circle (longitude), although there is a difference of 2°; that rays (R1 and R2) sent down from the sun are parallel; that straight lines falling on parallel lines make alternate angles equal; and that arcs subtended by equal angles are similar. He accepted a figure of approximately 5,000 stades for the distance from Syene to Alexandria, which, according to his previous reasoning, was 1/50 of the circumference of the earth. Thus 5,000 stades x 50 equals 250,000 stades, the circumference of the earth. But as a mathematical ploy, in order to achieve a number divisible by 60 or 360, so as to correlate stades with his subdivisions or degrees, he emended this to 252,000 stades [ a stade, stadion, stadia ), originally the distance covered by a plough before turning, was 600 feet of whatever standard was used]. A conversion to modern units of measure finds Eratosthenes' calculation to be somewhere between 45,007 km (27,967 miles) to 39,690 km (24,663 miles), as compared to actual equatorial circumference of 40,075 km (24,902 miles), there has always been some controversy over the equivalent modern length of a stade as used by Eratosthenes.
The only theoretical error in this mode of calculation was in the assumption - which was inevitable in the days of Eratosthenes - that the earth was exactly spherical, instead of being as it really is, a slightly oblate spheroid, and that therefore a meridian great circle was equal to that of the equator. And the error proceeding from this cause, which would not exceed 1/300th part of the whole, is wholly unimportant as compared with the practical errors arising from the defective means of observation.
In the first place, it was assumed that Syene lay directly under the tropic, it being a well-known fact that at the summer solstice the sun could be seen from the bottom of a deep well, and that at the same time the gnomon cast no perceptible shadow. But, though these facts were perfectly correct as matters of rough observation, such as could be made by general travellers, they were far from having the precise accuracy requisite as the basis of scientific calculations. Syene is in fact situated in latitude 24° 5' 30", or nearly 37 miles to the north of the Tropic. In the next place Alexandria, instead of being exactly on the same meridian with Syene, lay in fact not less than three degrees of longitude to the west of it: an error of no trifling moment when the distance between the two was assumed as the basis of calculation. But a much graver error than either of these two was that caused by the erroneous estimate of the actual distance between the two cities. What mode of measurement had been resorted to, or how Eratosthenes arrived at his conclusion upon this point, we are wholly without information: but it may well be doubted whether he had recourse to anything like actual mensuration. Indeed the difficulty which modern experience has shown to attend this apparently simple operation, where scientific accuracy is required, renders it highly improbable that it was even attempted; and the round number of 5,000 stades at once points to its being no more than a rough approximation.
But even considered as such, it exceeds the truth to a degree that one could hardly have expected, in a country so well known as Egypt, and in an age so civilized as that of the Ptolemies. Alexandria is in fact situated at a distance of about 530 geographical miles (5,300 stades ) from Syene, as measured on the map along the nearest road but the direct distance between the two, or the arc of the great circle intercepts between the two points, which is what Eratosthenes intended to measure, amounts to only 453 miles or 4,530 stades. Eratosthenes, therefore, in fixing the length of this arc at 5,000 stades, was 470 beyond the truth. But this was not all. The difference in latitude between Alexandria and Syene really amounts to only 7° 5', so that the direct distance between the two cities, supposing them to have been really situated on the same meridian (as Eratosthenes assumed them to be) would not have exceeded 4,25 miles or 4,250 stades, instead of 5,000. His arc was therefore in reality 750 stades too long.
It is remarkable that while the terrestrial measurement was thus grossly inaccurate, the observation of latitude as deduced from the gnomon at Alexandria was a very fair approximation to the truth: a fiftieth part of a great circle being equivalent to an arc of 7°12', thus exceeding by about 7' only the true interval between Alexandria and Syene, while falling short of that between Alexandria and the real Tropic by about 30' or half a degree.
It appears indeed almost certain that Eratosthenes himself was aware of the imperfection of his data, and regarded the result of his calculation only as an approximation to the truth. Hence, as mentioned above, he felt himself at liberty to add 2,000 stades to the 250,000 obtained by his process, in order to have a number that would be readily divisible into sixty parts, or into degrees of 360 to a great circle.
After all it must be admitted that the calculation of Eratosthenes, considering the disadvantages under which he labored, came surprisingly near the truth. His measurement of 250,000 stades (the immediate result of his calculation) would be equivalent to 25,000 geographical miles, while the actual circumference of the earth at the equator falls very little short of 25,000 English miles. The error in excess therefore amounted to less than one-seventh part of the whole.
Once the value of 252,000 stades was accepted, it was feasible also to work out the circumference of any parallel circle. Thus Eratosthenes calculated that the parallel at Rhodes, 36°N., was under 200,000 stades in circumference. To obtain the equivalent in stades of one degree of latitude he had only to divide by 360, i.e., 700 stades; to obtain the equivalent of one degree of longitude at Rhodes he could divide, say, 195,000 stades by 360, i.e., 541.67 stades. Thus was established the basis of a fairly accurate system of coordinates for any sectional mapping of the Mediterranean based upon the Rhodes parallel.
Having thus laid the foundation of what has been called in modern times "geodesy" - the determination of the figure and dimensions of the earth, considered in its entirety, as a part of the system of the universe, Eratosthenes next proceeded to consider that portion of it which was in his time geographically known, or supposed to be inhabited. And here it must be observed that the relation between the habitable world, which was alone regarded as coming within the scope of the geographer (properly so called), and the terrestrial globe itself, was, in the days of Eratosthenes, and even long afterwards, a very different one from that which we now conceive as subsisting between them.
Ever since the discoveries of the great Portuguese and Spanish navigators in the 15th and 16th centuries opened out to us new continents, and extensions of those already known, far beyond anything that had previously been suspected or imagined, men have been accustomed to regard the "map of the world" as comprising the whole surface of the globe, and including both the eastern and western hemispheres, while towards the north and south it is capable of indefinite extension, till it should reach the poles, and is in fact continually receiving fresh accessions. With the Greek geographers on the contrary, from Eratosthenes to Strabo, the known or habitable world was conceived as a definite and limited portion of the earth's surface, situated wholly within the northern hemisphere, and comprised within about a third of the extent of that section. Towards the north and south a was conceived that the excessive cold in the one case, and the intolerable heat in the other, rendered those regions uninhabitable, and even inaccessible to man.
That there might be inhabitants of the southern hemisphere beyond the torrid zone, or that unknown lands might exist within the boundless and trackless ocean that was supposed to extend around two-thirds of the globe from west to east, was admitted to be theoretically possible, but was treated as mere matter of idle speculation, much as we might at the present day regard the question of the inhabitants on Mars.
In his Geographica Eratosthenes discussed the best method of drawing a map of the inhabited area of the earth as known. The first task of the geographer therefore, according to the notions then prevailing, was to determine the limits and dimensions of the map of the world which was to form the subject of his special investigations. This question, which was taken up by Eratosthenes at the beginning of his second book, had already been considered by several previous writers, who had arrived at very different results.
On one point indeed they were all agreed, that the length of the habitable world, from west to east, greatly exceeded as breadth, from north to south. Democritus, two centuries before Eratosthenes, had asserted that it was half as long again as a was broad, and this view was adopted by Dicæarchus, though recent discoveries had in his day materially extended the knowledge of its eastern portions. The astronomer Eudoxus on the other hand maintained that the length was double the breadth; Eratosthenes went a step farther and determined the length to be more than double the breadth, a statement which continued to be received by subsequent geographers for more than three centuries as an established fact. According to his calculation the length of the known world from the Atlantic to the Eastern Ocean amounted to 74,000 stades, while as breadth from the parallel of the Cinnamon Country [Ethiopia/Somaliland] to that of Thule [Iceland ?] did not exceed 38,000 stades.
Therefore, as with earlier map construction, the length of the oikumene greatly exceeds the width, though by what proportion depends on how much of the northern, eastern and southern extremities was regarded as inhabited. It is clear from Strabo that Eratosthenes used an orthogonal projection. Rather than a rectangle, he thought of the oikumene as tapering off at each end of its length, like a chlamys [short Greek mantle]. Moreover Strabo tells us that to the above total of 74,000 stades Eratosthenes, using another mathematical ploy, added 2,000 at each end, to prevent the width being more than half the length. On the parallel of Rhodes, this total of 78,000 stades corresponds to about 140° longitude, which is roughly the distance from Korea to the west coat of Spain.
As approximations to sizes and shapes of parts of the world, Eratosthenes first divided the inhabited world by a line stretching from the Pillars of Hercules [Straits of Gibraltar] to the Taurus Mountains and beyond, then subdivided each of these two sections into a number of irregular shapes, or sphragides, which literally meant 'an official seal' and later was extended to represent a plot of land numbered by a government surveyor, then by extrapolation to a numbered area on a map. India he suggested drawing as a rhomboid, Ariana [the eastern part of the Persian Empire] as approximating a parallelogram. We do not know the total number of sphragides and have shapes recorded only for some. Taprobana Island, a misplaced Ceylon/Sri Lanka, and the short-cutting of Africa and India in the south were the result of the misconception that the equatorial waters were too hot to be navigated.
Eratosthenes undoubtedly conceived, in accordance with the prevalent belief in his day, that the Ocean was found immediately to the east of India, and that the Ganges flowed directly into it. Just to the north of the Ganges the great mountain chain of Imaus, which he regarded as the continuation of the Indian Caucasus and the Taurus, descended (according to his ideas) to the shores of the Eastern Ocean; and he appears to have given the name of Tarnarus to the headland which formed the termination of this great range. From that point he supposed the coast to trend away towards the north-west, so as to surround the great unknown tracts of Scythia on the north, but sending in a deep inlet to the south which formed the Caspian Sea.
Of the northern shores of Asia or Europe he had really no more knowledge than Herodotus, but, unlike that historian, he assumed the fact that both continents were bounded by the Ocean on the north; a fact which is undoubtedly true, but in a sense so widely different from that supposed by Eratosthenes that a can hardly be held as justifying his theory. In fact the conclusion of Eratosthenes was mainly based upon the erroneous belief that the Caspian communicated with the Ocean to the north in the same manner that the Persian Gulf did to the south; a view which was adopted by all geographers for a period of three centuries, on the authority of Patrocles.
It was doubtless from the same authority that Eratosthenes derived his statement as to the dimensions of the Caspian Sea, as well as that concerning the outflow into it of the rivers Oxus and Iaxartes, which he asserts "... was well known to the Greeks". Yet the erroneous idea of its communication with the Ocean to the north sufficiently shows how questionable the information possessed by the Greeks really was.
His ideas of the geographical position and configuration of India were also in great measure erroneous. As mentioned above, he conceived it to be of a rhomboidal form, which may be regarded as a rough approximation to the truth, and he even knew that the two sides which enclosed the southern extremity were longer than the other two. But as he supposed the range of Imaus that bounded the country to the north to have its direction from west to east, while the Indus flowed from north to south, he was obliged to shift around the position of his rhomb, so as to bring the other two sides approximately parallel to the two thus assumed. Hence he conceived the projecting angle of India to have a direction towards the south-east instead of the south, and even supposed it to advance farther towards the east than the mouth of the Ganges. He appears in fact to have obtained, probably from the information collected by Patrocles, a correct general idea of the great projection of India in a southerly direction towards Cape Comorin, but was unable to reconcile this with his previously conceived notions as to its western and northern boundaries, and was thus constrained altogether to distort its position in order to make it agree with what he regarded as established conclusions. It was doubtless from the same source that he had learned the name of the Coniaci, as the people inhabiting this southernmost point of India; a name which hence forward became generally received, with slight modifications, by ancient geographers.
Physical geography, in the modern sense of the term, was still quite in its infancy in the days of Eratosthenes, and it cannot be said that he did much to impart to it a scientific character. In treating the mountain chains of Asia as one continuous range, to which he applied the name of Taurus, he may be regarded as having made a first attempt, however crude, at that systematic description of mountain ranges to which we now give the name of orography. He also arrived at a sound conclusion concerning the causes of the inundation of the Nile, a subject that must naturally have engaged the attention of a geographer resident in Egypt. On the other hand he stated a strange hypothesis, that the surplus waters of the Euphrates were carried by subterranean channels to Coele, Syria, and thence again underground so as to feed the streams which broke out near Rhinocorura and Mount Casius.
Eratosthenes also adopted, and apparently developed at considerable length, an idea first suggested by the physical philosopher Strato, that the Mediterranean and the Euxine [Black] Seas had originally no outlet, and stood in consequence at a much higher level, but that they had burst the barriers that confined them, and thus given rise to the Straits of the Bosphorus, the Hellespont and that of the columns. In proof of this theory he alleged the presence of marine shells far inland in Libya, especially near the temple of Jupiter Ammon, and on the road leading to it, as well as the deposits and springs of salt that were also found in the Libyan deserts.
This map of the known world was a very striking achievement and may be considered to be the first really scientific Greek map. Although the dimensions are not known exactly, as it was presented to the Egyptian court a may be assumed to have been fairly large. It must have been drawn as closely as possible to scale, and its influence on subsequent Greek and Roman cartography was tremendous. Indeed, with Ptolemy's inaccurate alterations to the overall dimensions of the world and the oikumene, it can be said to have affected world maps right down to the Age of Discovery. (this map only exists as reconstruction)
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