Maps and Geography in the Ancient World

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Introduction to Maps and Geography in the Ancient World

The earliest illustrations, hence far unearthed, that are indisputably portrayals of land characteristics are the Babylon or Babylonian tablets; certain land drawings found in Egypt and paintings found in early tombs. It is highly possible that these two civilizations evolved their mapping skills roughly simultaneously and in similar directions. Both were crucially related to the fertile areas of their river valleys and thus doubtless made 4r explorations and plats momentarily settled communities were established. Later they structured plans for building of roads, canals, and temples—the correspondent of today’s engineering plans.

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Tablet in Iraq

A tablet discovered in Iraq exhibits the Earth as a disk encompassed by water with Babylon as its centre. Apart from this illustration, dating from about 1000 BCE, there seem to have been rather some attempts by Egyptians and Babylonians to display the type and extent of the Earth as a whole. Their mapmaking has been preoccupied with more practical needs, such as the inception of boundaries. Not before the time of the Greek geographer-philosopher did postulation and conclusions as to the nature of the Earth start to take form.


Greek Maps and Geography

The Greeks were superlative among communities of the ancient world for their pursuit and evolution of geographic comprehension. The deficit arable land in their own area resulted in maritime exploration and the evolution of commerce and colonies. By 600 BCE Miletus, on the Aegean, had transformed as a centre of geographic comprehension, and also cosmographic speculation.


Hecataeus' Map of the World

Hecataeus, a scholar of Miletus, possibly generated the first book on geography in around 500 BCE. A generation afterwards of Herodotus, from more widespread studies and wider travels, stretched upon it. A historian accompanied by geographic leanings, Herodotus documented, among other things, an early orbit of the African continent by Phoenicians. He also enhanced upon the representation of the shape and degree of the then-known areas of the world, and he announced the Caspian to be an inland sea, combating the prevailing view that it was part of the “northern oceans”.


Herodotus' Map of the World

Although Hecataeus has been considered the Earth as a flat disk encompassed by ocean, Herodotus and his followers cross-questioned the concept and lodged a number of other possible forms. As a matter of fact, the scholars and philosophers of the time seem to have been preoccupied for many years with analysis on the nature and extent of the world. Some modern scholars contributed the first hypothesis of a spherical Earth and the idea steadily developed into a consensus over many years. By the mid-4th century, the theory of a spherical Earth was well accepted among Greek scholars, and formulated six arguments to prove that the Earth was, in reality, a sphere. Subsequently after, the idea of a spherical Earth was usually accepted among geographers and other entities of science.


A disciple of Aristotle in about 300 BCE Dicaearchus, had put an orientation line on the world map, running east and west through Rhodes and Gibraltar. Eratosthenes, Ptolemy and Marinus of Tyre, progressively created the reference-line postulation until a reasonably all-inclusive system of meridians and parallels, as well as techniques of projecting them, had been achieved.


Claudius Ptolemaeus Maps and Geography in the Ancient World

Claudius Ptolemaeus (90–168 CE) has been the greatest figure of the ancient world in the advancement of geography and cartography. An astronomer, spent many years surveying the greatest repository of scientific knowledge at the library in Alexandria. His commemorating work, the Guide to Geography was produced in eight volumes.


The eighth volume was amongst the key contributions, consisting of instructions for creating maps of the world and discussions on mathematical geography and other basic principles of cartography. Ptolemy’s map of the world as it was then known marked the summit of Greek cartography and also the compendium of gathered knowledge of the Earth’s features at that time.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1. How Mapmaking Came into Existence? How Were Maps Used in Ancient Times?

Answer: Maps and geography in the ancient world were made by using accurate surveying strategies that measure the positions of different objects by computing the distance and angles between each point. Mapmaking, just similar to various other aspects of science and art, evolved independently in China. The oldest known Chinese map dates back about 1137. Most of the parts or regions that are now reckoned in China had been mapped in crude form until the time of the arrival of the Europeans. The Jesuit missionaries of the 16th century discovered sufficient details to make an atlas, and Chinese maps thereafter were persuaded by the West.

Q2. How Was Geography Conducted in the Ancient Period?

Answer: Geography has initially been systematically studied by the ancient Greeks, who also developed a philosophy of geography; Herodotus, Thales of Miletus, Eratosthenes, Aristotle, Ptolemy and Strabo made crucial bequests to geography. During the Middle Ages, Greek geographic learning was sustained and prospered by the Arabs.

Q3. What Does Maps and Geography in the Middle Ages Show?

Answer: There was little progression in cartography during the early middle Ages. The medieval map making appears to have been influenced by the church, depicting in its work the ecclesiastical dogmas and interpretations of Scripture. In fact, during the 6th century a “Christian topography” reflected the Earth as a flat disk. Therefore, the Roman map of the world, in addition to other concepts, continued as authoritative for a number of centuries. A contemporary Chinese map depicts that country occupying most of the world, while the Roman Empire rules over most other maps yielded during early Christian times.

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